By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The perfect setting for the Theater Fire's blend of rustic Americana and Southwestern music would be under a full moon on some sweltering backwoods back porch, where listeners slap mosquitoes on their sweat-slicked skin, pass around XXX-embossed jugs of hooch and laugh when the hounds howl along with the performance. For the band's Denton CD release party, $1 Lone Stars and floorboards creaking overhead in the hot basement of J&J's Pizza had to suffice.
But this atypical setting didn't disrupt the band's easygoing stage presence and loose arrangements as they re-created new album Everybody Has a Dark Side onstage. From the shuffling drums of opener "Kicking Up the Darkness" to the banjo and accordion stomp through Centro-Matic cover "Members of the Show 'Em How It's Done," the show was a weird-Texas tour of deadly spiders, wounded Civil War veterans and Darth Vader references. Squeezing beautiful noise from kitchen implements and washboard or clattering drumsticks against doorjambs, the musicians give off the vibe of guys playing in a living room--which is why the pizza joint's basement turned out so appropriate.
But unlike living-room jams, the band's loose nature didn't hamper its musicianship. Twin trumpets twisted together in intricate two-thread strands, especially on the boozy waltz "Fiddleback Weaver," and the audience couldn't resist clapping along to the 1-2-3, 1-2-3 rhythm of "Civil Warrior." Live, much of the band's appeal comes from watching players swap instruments--sometimes mid-song--with the ease of a carpenter putting down a hammer for a saw (and speaking of saws, Curtis Glenn Heath plays one with a violin bow to produce a beautiful haunting tone).
The audience's raucous enthusiasm for the Theater Fire was the opposite of its earlier hushed attention to a trio of singer-songwriters. Though the Baptist Generals' Chris Flemmons was fine, overly bearded Angelus frontman Emil Rapstine made the biggest impression. His emotive voice and poetic lyrics juxtaposed nicely with droning guitar chords and enthralled a rapt crowd.